Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Thank-You, An Apology, A Clarification, and a Good Cup of Coffee

Today, a box arrived at my office from Franklin, Tennessee. In it was a copy of Nate Larkin's book, Samson and the Pirate Monks, and another special gift. Of course, this is in response to my recent post about Lifeway carrying this book. Who is it from? The return address was from a pack-n-ship type place in Franklin, but inside, the book is inscribed to me and signed by the author, Nate Larkin. Since the package did not include Nate's personal address, I can't write him back directly (though I will scour the internet for an email contact when I have time), and I feel that my previous public statements deserve some public clarification here as well. So, this post is both a public statement, and a personal one directed at our brother, Nate Larkin.

First, a thank you. Nate, this gesture on your part is an expression of genuine grace and a demonstration of true Christian maturity, and for that I am thankful. I think we would enjoy sharing the other gift you sent with the book were I in Franklin or if you are ever in Greensboro. Should you ever find yourself here, I hope you will take me up on that offer. The gift involves a beverage that neither of us apparently have any conscientious objection to.

Nate, I pray that God will continue to use your ministry to help men in crisis. I look forward to diving more thoroughly into the book, and look forward to drawing help from it for my own ministry and personal life. And should our paths ever cross, know that I will embrace you as a brother, and enjoy fellowship with you centered around the person of Christ and His saving and life-changing power. And should our paths not cross here, I am confident that we will have all eternity to spend together in worship of the Lamb.

Now, an apology. Nate, it was a rather unfortunate turn of providence that caused me to sample the chapter that includes the description of "the meeting after the meeting." I think aside from this, there is probably very little I would take issue with in the book. After all, I was intrigued enough to read a sample chapter, something that doesn't happen with every book I pick up to browse. I did not intent to convey in my initial post on the book that you were a bad person, an immature Christian, or that the book was completely without merit. If you took personal offense to the comments I made, I am deeply sorry for that. You explain your position on the issue of alcohol in the book, and it one on which we disagree. But mature Christians can do this on a number of issues without breaking fellowship. As I stated in the paragraph above, I am sure that you and I could enjoy fellowship together, as I am confident we agree on more than we disagree.

Here is a clarification. My post about this issue involved two concerns: A) That I do not believe Christians should partake or encourage the use of alcohol. I attempted to set forth a scriptural argument (as opposed to an existential one or one from ecclesiastical history) in my post called "Not Addicted to Much Wine." Where this concerns Nate Larkin is that I believe his book would have been more appealing and more constructive without the information about alcohol. In including this bit, I believe a stumbling block has been set in place, in spite of Nate's effort to allow for conscientious abstinence. Did this information have to be included in the book? I would say No. B) That Lifeway carries (and apparently rigorously defends the appropriateness of carrying) this book, in spite of a strongly worded and controversial resolution passed in our most recent Southern Baptist Convention. This is the deeper issue in my former post. Nate Larkin can write whatever he wants to write and conduct his meetings however he chooses. However, Lifeway is an arm of the SBC, and I believe they should honor the actions taken by the SBC by being selective with their product choices. There are many products available through Lifeway today that would not have been in days past. It appears to me that there has been a lowering of standards of what is acceptable for the SBC bookstore to offer. I take no issue with the book being sold at Barnes and Noble, Borders, Family Christian Stores, Cokesbury, Walmart, or any other retail outlet. My concern is over the SBC bookstore marketing the book because it stands in contradiction with our published position on the issue of alcohol. I hope that clarifies my concern, and Nate, I hope you understand that this was the root of my concern.

For now, a hearty pirate yo ho ho, but hold the bottle of rum for me.


Nate said...

Thanks for your apology, Russ, but I assure you that no apology was necessary. I can tell from your blog that we're brothers, not because we agree on every point but because we obtain our righteousness from the same source, by the same means. Because it is Christ who justifies us, you and I don't need to justify ourselves. We can state what we believe humbly, without needing to be "right" -- because we know that we are clay pots, cracked pots, who ultimately are only made right by grace through faith in a perfect Savior.

Regarding the wisdom of including that little dissertation on alcohol in my book, you may be right. It was a tough call for me. On one hand, I knew that some Christians would find my open acceptance of moderate alcohol use offensive. I understood that pastors who are conscientiously opposed to alcohol might be prevented from endorsing my book for this reason alone, even though they agreed with everything else. I was sorely tempted to keep my view on alcohol to myself, and some of my friends advised doing just that. (Living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, I know lots of public teetotalers who do indulge in private or with close, trusted friends.)

On the other hand, I didn't feel right about hiding from my readers the fact that my Samson meeting reconvenes at a pub, where some guys will enjoy fellowship and discuss spiritual things over a pint. (I know this sounds implausible -- I reacted with absolute incredulity when such a thing was described to me 30 years ago.) Personally, I believe that moderate alcohol consumption is eminently defensible on biblical grounds, but I'm just one guy. I am not authorized to speak for the entire Samson Society. There are other Samson guys who understand the Bible the way you do on this point, and I encourage them to hold their after-meetings in places that don't serve alcohol. In my mind, this is a Romans 14:5 issue.

But all of this discussion may actually go to prove your point. My book isn't about alcohol or drinking, but because I mentioned it, that's what we've wound up talking about. I am grateful for your openmindedness, for your willingness to reengage and reconsider, and to actually read the book. Thank you.

charliepp said...

Russ, I am a friend of Nate's. I was disturbed by your original comments but you have truly shown the love and humility of Jesus in this matter. Thanks so much for seeking peace in the Kingdom. This whole episode has been made glorious by your openness and loving spirit.